In less than 24 hours, the Kent State football team returns to Dix Stadium for the first time since falling to Northern Illinois, 42-14, on Nov. 18, 2008.
Five months remain until the start of the 2009 season, but preparations already are underway for the new campaign. Friday morning, the Golden Flashes kick-off the start of spring practice where head coach Doug Martin and his staff get their first crack at shaping the team into a Mid-American Conference contender.
Gone is quarterback Julian Edelman and his big-play potential behind center. Left tackle August Parrish also vacated the position he's held the past few seasons. There are holes at linebacker and defensive back, and replacing wide receiver Shawn Bayes certainly won't be an easy task.
Fortunately for Martin, his staff has done a tremendous job recruiting over the past several seasons. Unlike seasons past, the Golden Flashes won't be young and inexperienced. There are several players vying for starting roles, most of who already have earned quality playing time.
Offensively, the Golden Flashes return six starters-Mike Fay (LG), Chris Anzevino (C), Mike Roder (RG), Pat Reedy (RT), Jon Simpson (TE) and running back Eugene Jarvis.
Senior Jameson Konz started the 2008 season at tight end before an injury sidelined him for the year. He returns, but will switch to H-back, a role that should allow him to become more involved in the Flashes' offense.
Redshirt sophomore Giorgio Morgan enters spring as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. He started two games as a freshman in 2007, before redshirting last fall. But, fifth-year senior Anthony Magazu has the ability to pull that job out from under Morgan's feet.
Defensively, the Golden Flashes have seven returning starters-Sam Frist (NT), Aaron Hull (DT), Kevin Hogan (DE), Cobrani Mixon (MLB), Dan Hartman (SS), Brian Lainhart (FS) and Danny Sadler (CB).
Filling many of the holes vacated by graduation will be several veteran players, and a few newcomers.
At left tackle, redshirt freshman Kent Cleveland will try to hold off classmate Josh Kline, and at split end fifth-year senior Derek McBryde will have his hands full battling freshman Tyshon Goode and redshirt freshman Matt Hurdle, who moved to the outside from quarterback.
Kendrick Pressley made quite a splash with the Golden Flashes last fall, and he'll enter the spring as the favorite to hold down the starting role at flanker.
At defensive end, Zach Williams should be a lock to replace Darrius Carter, while veterans Hogan and Monte Simmons hold down the other side.
Anthony Mirando and Will Johnson, who switched to linebacker from safety, will compete for the SAM linebacker spot and junior Dorian Wood should gain more comfort at the WILL linebacker position.
Key Battles of the Spring:
Quarterback: Morgan has the physical tools, and some experience under his belt, but he'll receive a stiff challenge from Magazu and sophomore Sal Battles, who was recruited by the Golden Flashes as an athlete. He played quarterback at East High in Youngstown and has big-play potential.
Give the edge to Morgan, but only if he stays motivated and improves each and every practice. His talent isn't in question, but Edelman's leadership on and off the field will be hard to replace.
Wide Receiver: Over the past couple of seasons, Kent State has struggled to find a consistent pass-catcher. To compete for a MAC title, that trend has to change. Pressely provided a spark last season and with Konz and Simpson returning, the Golden Flashes have the size they have been missing. Look for several younger players to be in the mix as well.
Left Tackle: Parrish was a mainstay at the position for three seasons. Now, it's up to the younger Flashes to pick up where he left off. Cleveland dominated in high school and showed promise during his freshman season. Here, it might be a case of maturity over ability.
Defensive Line: The Golden Flashes have three returning starters, four if you count Simmons who basically rotated with Hogan last season. The guys up front will need to become more productive to create a more consistent defense than what we saw last season. There is plenty of depth, and players like Ishmaa'ily Kitchen should push for a starting role.
Linebacker: Mixon is a lock in the middle. Wood and Mirando have the talent and experience, but they'll be pushed hard. It's hard to imagine the linebacker corps being better than it was last season with Derek Burrell and Stevon Moss in the lineup, but this group is deep and talented.
Defensive Back: With Lainhart, who created ways to pick the ball off last season, and Hartman returning at safety, the Golden Flashes have plenty of leadership in the defensive backfield. They'll need it as Rico Murray graduated, leaving his cornerback spot up for grabs. Look for Josh Pleasant to take the first crack at teaming up with Sadler.
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